Now, before I start...

A little procrastination can go a long way. Even when it's not on your to-do list.

Procrastinating about writing or writing about procrastination? Only one of those is going to allow me to get my deadline scored off the list it is written on. In bold. Underlined. Do it. Today.

Thomas De Quincey has some stern words on the evils of procrastinating: ''If once a man indulges himself in murder, very soon he comes to think little of robbing; and from robbing he next comes to drinking and Sabbath-breaking, and from that to incivility and procrastination''.

I've got a few issues with that statement, mostly in his order of severity. And I'm not sure there are convincing links between crime and procrastination.

But you know, the man was a confessed opium addict, debtor and documented procrastinator himself. He didn't even get around to corresponding with people who were putting together his collected works so they did it without his help. So, whatever, Mr T De Q.

A brand-spanking-new study on procrastination has just been published in Psychological Science journal. Based on observations of identical and fraternal twins, they've found that procrastination can be genetic and ''seems to have some genetic overlap with impulsivity''.

From what I understand, impulsivity was a good thing for cavemen. Moose. Quick. Kill. Procrastination, not so helpful. Moose. Yeah, OK, I'll get to it. Later. Oh, it's gone. Never mind, I'll eat some berries.

But maybe, now our food comes to us on plastic trays, procrastination is evolutionarily OK? Or not. I'm confused.

So I've done my own highly scientific study of twin kids procrastinating and have noticed this: they procrastinate best and most sneakily when they do it productively.

Everyone gets very interested in musical instrument practice in our house when there are rooms to be tidied. I find the same to be true with adult procrastinators. Let me explain.

Say, just for example, that you need to do your tax return, file an article on time, weed your tunnel house and clean the bathroom.

My theory of productive procrastination relies on an underlying Protestant work ethic that doesn't allow you to ignore all these things and watch rubbish on television for the two-hour window that the experimental twins are away amusing themselves.

But it does mean, if you're putting off the article that you want to be perfect, every time, that you're more likely to end up with a clean bathroom or a tax return done before its due date.

I have a friend who tricks herself into doing everything she needs to do by writing relentless lists. Each time she starts with, (1) Write a list. Each time she finishes her list she can then cross off the first thing, because she's achieved writing her list, and so go on to the second.

And so on. Which is all good until you get to the underlined, ringed-in-red stage and you still can't make yourself do it.

Perfectionism, apparently, leads to procrastination. Fear. It's very rarely laziness. Lazy people, perhaps, can't be bothered to procrastinate, to even pretend that they intend doing something on time.

And you know, there are benefits to procrastination. I read somewhere that procrastinators actually get their work done better in the end. I should've framed that.

Something to do with the work being more considered or coming out better under the pressure-cooker conditions of the last minute. Or is that just a procrastinator's excuse?

Mark Twain and Oscar Wilde, both arguably successful individuals, have snappy things to say about putting things off not just until tomorrow, but the day after. Tomorrow tomorrow, or manana manana, as they say in Spanish. Which wisely, roughly, translates to simply ''later''.

Still, sometimes life slows like an overloaded computer when you don't get around to crossing those things off your to-do list day after day and still you have to take on more.

It doesn't help to have self-help websites asking if you're really, actually addressing the really important questions in your field. And whether that might not be really, actually the real, actual issue.

I would rather go outside and sit in a real, actual field than put those sorts of questions on my to-do list.

If I were Mr T De Q, my take on procrastination might come out something like this:''If once a woman indulges herself in taking too much on, very soon she comes to hair-tearing; and from hair-tearing she next comes to working all hours and drinking, and from that to incivility and procrastination''.

And the bathroom's still not clean.


Add a Comment

Local journalism matters - now more than ever

As the Covid-19 pandemic brings the world into uncharted waters, Otago Daily Times reporters and photographers continue to bring you the stories that matter. For more than 158 years our journalists have provided readers with local news you can trust. This is more important now than ever.

As advertising drops off during the pandemic, support from our readers is crucial. You can help us continue to bring you news you can trust by becoming a supporter.

Become a Supporter